Chic to the (Conservative) Core

With Inauguration Day approaching (January 20th) Laura Bush’s fashion choices for the various events marking the occasion have been the focus of the fashion world as of late, and her ever-revolving style has been a seemingly favorite topic of conversation. On Monday, January 10th, this subject was WWD’s cover story (“WWD Exclusive – Laura’s Oscar”), which featured a sketch of Oscar de la Renta’s embroidered and bugle beaded silvery blue wrap gown, which the First Lady will wear to the Inaugural Ball.

And in today’s ‘Fashion’ section of The New York Times, there was a full-page article, “What the First Lady Will Wear, by Ruth La Ferla” with accompanying pictures and sketches bearing witness to Laura’s ‘glamorous’ transformation through the years. For me, the most illustrative shot was the Annie Liebovitz portrait that appears in January Vogue in which Laura has quite frankly, never looked better (in fact, she is, with all due respects, almost unrecognizable). Why?

Well, for one thing, she looks far more youthful, more modern, less uptight, less ‘done’, yet still stately and above all, ‘glamorous’, in her Oscar de la Renta dark navy (almost black) floor length silk shirtdress, accessorized NOT with dainty pearls or that expected diamante brooch pinned to the lapel- but with a highly distinctive and personal Verdura triple strand lemon quartz necklace. And her hair, which is often too helmet like for my tastes, was wisely and artfully brushed back away from her face, slightly tousled, and seemingly highlighted by the brilliant Sally Hersberger.

There is something in this that can be used as a lesson and application for women of all ages, (especially for those who are well, over a ‘certain’ age). It is proof positive that one does not need bells and whistles to make a statement OR to look glamorous, less can be more, and one can never underestimate the power and impact of chic, understated classics. Wisely, Mrs. Bush is choosing another such creation (a Carolina Herrera raspberry striped silk taffeta shirtwaist gown) for the Texas State Society black tie and boots ball on January 19th. She certainly is a quick learner.

While it’s undeniable that Mrs. Bush has vastly improved vis a vis her fashion sense, since her first public gig as First Lady of Texas, as well as her first term as First Lady of the Land, she still has quite a ways to go before being eligible for truly chic status. By her reliance on the formidable design talents of the chicer than chic Carolina Herrera and Oscar de la Renta (in lieu of fellow Texan Michael Faircloth who she does still wear from time to time) she has made a statement about her new found role as a “symbol of the state” and a “growing awareness that her power is entrenched” (as pointed out in Ms. La Ferla’s article).

But if I was Mrs. Bush’s fashion consultant, I would guide her into more of these wise fashion choices and help her find the most highly distinctive yet classic pieces. I would steer her away from those stiff matched suits with short, fitted jackets and go for versions that have elongated and impeccably tailored jackets cut like riding jackets (far more flattering). I would also steer her away from anything with unnecessary, extraneous trims (you know ‘ruffles and flourishes’), and focus on pared down, beautifully executed, almost minimal designs. I would also keep her away from those predictable saccharine sweet pastels favored by political wives and women politicians (pale pinks and blues) in lieu of forever chic and timeless neutrals white, tan, black, and navy, maybe a hit of red from time to time.

And while I understand that there are occasions when only a matched suit will do, as much as possible, I would try to emphasize distinctive and versatile separates (what a perfect time for that navy crested blazer worn with cuffed gray flannel trousers or a kick pleated gray flannel skirt), trench coats, and collecting a wardrobe of coats. Quite frankly, coat dressing is so much more elongating, slimming, and chic than little jackets anyway, they are so versatile and functional, make a perfect traveling companion, go from day to evening, and look as amazing with skirts, dresses, or pants.

As for the First Lady’s weekend wear and casual, down time? My idea of a perfect warm weather ‘uniform’ would be a navy crested blazer, crisp white shirt, perfectly cut white jeans, and rope soled lace up espadrilles. For the colder months, she could channel her Western roots (like hubby Dubya does) and opt for beautifully crafted, couture like whipstitched earth toned suede and chamois jackets, crisp chambray shirts, chinos or dark, stiff jeans, accessorized with pieces of authentic turquoise Navajo jewelry – necklaces, cuffs, rings (very Ralph Lauren, no?) Well, what designer is more identified with the American West, and who more successfully embodies the idea of ‘Great American Sportswear’ than Ralph? Nobody does it better!

Posted by Marilyn Kirschner

Marilyn Kirschner

I am a long time fashion editor with 40+ years of experience. As senior market of Harper's Bazaar for 21 years I met and worked with every major fashion designer in the world and covered all of the collections in Paris, London, Milan and New York. I was responsible for overall content, finding and pulling in the best clothes out there, and for formulating ideas and stories.

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